Having just read Cory Doctorow's piece on why he's not going to buy an iPad, I'd like to offer a counterpoint. It's rare for me to disagree with Cory (I've got huge admiration for him and his writings), but it's worth challenging his views on this one because they're fairly one sided.
He asserts that the iPad locks its users into the whims and fancies of Apple and the content providers, while at the same time resisting the efforts of hackers wishing to take it apart to learn how it works and try to improve it. The implication is that this somehow represents a trend leading towards some kind of dystopian future where most content, hardware and software looks this way.
There are several areas I area with, strongly. Content providers must not be put in a position where they can limit our choices. And the hacker culture is one which should be cherished and nurtured - it's a critical part of how our industry evolves.
However, I would argue that, on the balance of things, the iPad will do more good than harm.
I can't help wondering whether, because Cory has invested so much time explaining why the old publishing business models have collapsed, he's lost sight of what was good about these models. So long as our rights aren't affected, why shouldn't the publishing industry look for (legal) ways to make money out of their content? It's their content, and they've got just as much right to try and monetize this as I have not to pay for it. There's also still a lot to say for investigative journalism still being funded - sometimes the big stories need money behind them. Not to mention all the careers at stake. So long as we can still access a huge breadth of alternative content elsewhere on the web, where's the harm?
I was perfectly happy to buy the Guardian app for the iPhone at £2.39, because it's one of the best ways to read news *on that device*. It in no way threatens the other ways the same content is shared elsewhere. As we collectively explore the new frontier of user interfaces on mobile devices, I'm tempted to thank the Guardian simply for advancing this cause. This benefits all content providers for all mobile devices, not just the Guardian on the iPhone, by demonstrating - extending - the art of the possible. Proprietary software has often served as a source of inspiration for open source developers looking to achieve similar aims.
And iPad users can still view content via the web browser (which promotes open standards, natch). The iPad user has full choice in this matter. No harm done.
As for hacker culture, this will continue to prosper because hackers still have other devices to take apart. This is an unstoppable force. Dedicated hackers will still find a way to hack the iPad, as evidenced by the community which has grown around hacking the iPhone [Update 5 April 2010: already jailbroken. And dismantled]. And, besides, just because something can't be hacked, it doesn't necessarily indicate a trend.
At the end of the day, the iPad is just a utility which, admittedly, sits atop the web. I would argue that the iPad extends the reach of the web further than it presently goes. It makes browsing the web more comfortable and convenient in certain scenarios (bed, train, sofa, others), and in doing so it will reach new people and increase usage for others (as a second or third device) - some of whom may become hackers as a result. Just as happened on the iPhone, we can look forward to innovative apps and websites that make the most of the new paradigms. And these will feed back into the various cycles of innovation happening elsewhere. In the long run, I would speculate that the web will benefit from the iPad, just as much - if not more - than the iPad benefits from the web.
As for the way in which comics used to be shared, and no longer can be, well that's a shame. But it isn't the iPad's fault - that's simple a side effect of digital content in general. Where you can still share URLs if you want to point at something. The web doesn't stop you buying a physical comic and sharing it, and in fact provides a wealth of social mechanisms and tools to augment real friendships. In fact the iPad is bringing comic reading to a new audience, who may become interested in the culture of sharing physical comics as a result. Cory should be thanking the iPad for this, not chastising it for the nature of web content in general!
I will be buying an iPad.